Sharks field young team

2009-02-12 00:00

THE selection of Keegan Daniel ahead of Jacques Botes on the flank is the only minor surprise to the Sharks team to take on the Stormers in tomorrow’s opening Super 14 clash in Cape Town.

There is little to choose between the two breakaways, but the more experienced Botes, one of the outstanding performers last year, has seen limited pre-season action and he starts on the bench.

The Sharks’ starting line-up are close to full strength, but injury has certainly restricted coach John Plumtree’s options and has left him with a young, inexperienced bench.

A sternum injury to Bok loosehead Beast Mtawarira sees Deon Carstens, another Springbok who enjoyed an excellent run last year, in the front-row.

John Smit, seen by Plumtree and Bok coach Peter de Villiers as a tighthead, will start in his favoured hooking position tomorrow.

Number one hooker Bismarck du Plessis has had no game time this season and he is on the bench.

He will play tomorrow and Smit will shift to tighthead when Jannie du Plessis, another returning from injury, starts puffing.

For the rest, the team selects itself with six Springboks in the back division — Rory Kockott is the only exception — and five in the forwards.

There are two changes to the backline that played in the Currie Cup final.

Plumtree has followed De Viliers’ lead in switching Ruan Pienaar to flyhalf, where he fills the gap left by Frederic Michalak while Kockott is at scrumhalf.

The changes at forward are Daniel for Botes, Smit for Du Plessis and Carstens for the Beast.

With centre/wing Waylon Murray, lock Albert van den Berg and prop Mtawarira injured, the bench lacks the experience and quality of former seasons and Plumtree has turned to the next generation of Sharks players, including the 19-year-old scrumhalf Ross Cronje, to provide back-up.

The Super 14 debutants are Melusi Mthethwa (aged 22), Alistair Hargreaves (23), Cronje (19), Riaan Swanepoel (23) and Luzuko Vulindlu (21).

The Sharks wrapped up preparations with a practice early yesterday and they fly to Cape Town this morning.

“The guys are excited,” assistant coach Grant Bashford said yesterday, “and there is a real buzz in the camp.

“It’s going to be one hell of a game.”

Meanwhile, Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus has responded to Plumtree’s request that referee Mark Lawrence keep an eye on the scrum.

“Mark Lawrence has a big job refereeing the scrum,” Plumtree said this week.

“We want a legal contest because there are ways of upsetting a dominant scrum — by a lot of collapsing or angling in — so we just want a straight contest at the scrum and it is an area they will know we will look at targeting — it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work that out — but that contest has to be very well-refereed to be a factor for us.”

Erasmus did not take kindly to Plumtree’s request.

“If my props were Deon Carstens and Jannie du Plessis, and both had not played since November, Beast Mtawarira is injured and John Smit is the only prop that could play in the warm-up games, I would also focus on the opposition scrum,” Erasmus told News24.

“It’s clever tactics, but I’m not sure it will work with Mark Lawrence there.”

Erasmus, in turn, said that the Sharks may still be suffering from a Currie Cup hangover.

“You can slip into a hole after winning the Currie Cup because it feels as if you’ve done everything,” he said.

“I learned the hard way that it’s two very different things to win the Currie Cup and achieve success in the Super 14.

“The one [Currie Cup] is a mechanical thing where you may get a few weeks’ rest because you’re playing against weaker teams.

“That is why we [the Stormers] place so much emphasis on conditioning. The negative part of not playing in the semi-finals of the Currie Cup is that people [in Cape Town] are angry with you. The positive is that you have an additional three weeks for conditioning. Hopefully that can count in our favour.”

Tomorrow’s game kicks off at 5 pm.

Sharks team: 15. Stefan Terblanche, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Adrian Jacobs, 12. Francois Steyn, 11. JP Pietersen, 10. Ruan Pienaar, 9. Rory Kockott, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Johann Muller (Captain), 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. John Smit, 1. Deon Carstens. Replacements: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Melusi Mthethwa, 18. Alistair Hargreaves, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Ross Cronje, 21. Riaan Swanepoel, 22. Luzuko Vulindlu.

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